Kvlture Clash: Fake Bands and Live Brands

By 100m
April 10, 2015
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Filed under Naming

Earlier this year, H&M quietly launched a metal-styled clothing line. The collection, featuring band shirts as well as a diligently patched bomber jacket and jeans combo, would be unremarkable save one thing–none of the bands on the patches are real. Perhaps Corporate didn’t want to pay to license real bands, or maybe designers just needed placeholder text for their Fraktur logos. Either way, the result was a truly goofy sequence of names. There’s Mortus (plausible), LANY (stylized LA/NY), and Yvaeh (think about it, man…).

Like metal? Say it with a “metal” patch
Like metal? Say it with a “metal” patch

It gets weird from here. Shortly after the clothing line’s debut, a press release from “Ville Huopakangas” (presumably a nomme-du-shred) began making the rounds on metal fansites. Written on behalf of promo company Strong Scene Productions, the release linked to websites for the H&M bands, which featured album art, photos, and even recordings whose toilet-fi production quality either bolstered or ruined the bands’ credibility. Despite allegedly representing forgotten acts from the 80s and 90s, the websites had been created only months before. More disturbingly, one of the bands was linked to National Socialist Black Metal, an esoteric corner of the genre that promotes racism and fascism.

Just a lazy Sunday in Valhalla
Just a lazy Sunday in Valhalla

Metalheads worldwide had their minds blown, seemingly having discovered a massive false-flag operation carried out by H&M’s marketing department. Then, in the middle of the chaos, a cabal of Nordic musicians stepped forward and outed themselves as the responsible parties. In a wry act of culture-jamming, the group had created elaborate backstories for the fake bands, skewering the clothing chain. According to Henri Sorvali, the group’s ringleader and member of real-life band Finntroll, the prank was a response to H&M “selling people fake, imaginary stuff from a subculture that is based on honesty and being true.”

Brands are alive. Like all social constructs, they’re shaped by the cultural forces around them, and while you can try your best to build a good one, you’ll end up sending it into wild and unpredictable territory. Vetting a name for connotations doesn’t make it bulletproof when its context changes. ISIS is ruining the acronym. Katrina ruined that name in New Orleans. 9/11 ruined a lot of birthdays.

H&M threw band names into the void, and this kind of trolling might have hooked a few poseurs. But presenting a name without context is begging for someone to come along and give it some, which is exactly what happened. Your brand is a slippery fish, and all it takes is a prank (or an election team that slacks on buying up domain names) for it to wriggle out of your grasp.

The fact remains that some communities just aren’t going to go for your brand. Trying to please everyone is doomed to fail, and so is trying to please people who care deeply about rejecting your overtures. Scion’s heavy (and admittedly better-researched) investment in metal music fueled a backlash best expressed by the following slogan, now a staple on flyers.

Commutergrind had to drop at the last minute
Commutergrind had to drop last-minute

Meanwhile, H&M is hurting. “[Company Name]+nazi” should never turn up relevant results on Google, and it sure does for them now. Authenticity may be a buzzword in branding, but it’s a phenomenally tricky thing to maintain. In courting a remarkably purist corner of the DIY community, where authenticity is tantamount to personal worth, H&M picked possibly the worst subculture to tempt fate with and consequently exposed themselves to both ridicule and bad press.

On the bright side, it’s worth noting that brand creep doesn’t have to limit a company or damage its image. Having your logo or slogan co-opted for other purposes is most likely a sign of success, given how imitation often equates to flattery. Do you want your brand to appear on a blotter sheet someday? Your answer should be an immediate and unequivocal yes. Doesn’t matter if you’re selling energy drinks or communion wafers, that means you’ve made it.

Place on tongue and press play
Place on tongue and press play